GREEN BAY—Cliff Christl, one of the most esteemed journalists to have covered the Packers in the team’s history, is joining the Packers and packers.com to become the franchise’s official historian.
“I think they’ve hired me to tell the greatest story in sports, and that’ll be my privilege,” Christl said.
Christl worked as a sportswriter for four Wisconsin newspapers during a career that spanned 36 years, and spent much of that time writing about the Packers. A native of Green Bay, Christl began covering the team on a regular basis in 1974.
Greatest story in sports?
“What beats it? The only other candidate is the Jackie Robinson story and the integration of professional sports,” Christl said.
“I grew up with it. I went to a couple of ballgames at Old City Stadium. I went to just about every game during the Lombardi years and haven’t missed many since. When I was working at the (Milwaukee) Journal Sentinel, I researched a couple of stories on Packers history and got enamored with it. I spent time poring through microfilm and that led to a couple of stories for the Journal Sentinel and then the Trail and now this.”
Christl is the creator of the Packers Heritage Trail, which includes 22 commemorative plaques and a spectacular downtown Green Bay plaza that tell about the rich history of the Packers over their first 50 years. Packers history has become Christl’s passion and in his new role he will work “to preserve an accurate history of the Green Bay Packers, and I truly believe that has never been done,” he said.
“So much of that early history is muddled, for a number of reasons. It’ll benefit the organization to have that on record. A lot of holes need to be filled in,” Christl added.
“It’s primarily the start of the franchise. I don’t think anyone knows for sure how it took place. I’m aware of some things that took place and I’m hopeful to fill in a few more holes and tell that story on the website. You don’t want to re-write history, and I don’t think that’ll be necessary, but somehow there’s a way to separate urban legend.”
With packers.com, Christl will develop a presence by contributing with blogs and providing other offerings to the site’s expanded coverage of Packers history.
“It’s been my hobby. There are simply great stories,” he said, using the story of Rigs Dwyer as an example. “He played on the first team in 1919 and was working for the railroad. One night he fell under a train car, lost an arm and a leg and the Packers and the community organized a benefit game.
“If I have one dream out of all of this, it’s that Ken Burns realizes the substance and does a documentary on this franchise,” Christl said.
Christl has served on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee since 2002, and is also a member of the Packers Hall of Fame selection committee. In addition, he has authored or co-authored three books about the Packers: A Championship Team: The Packers and St. Norbert College in the Lombardi Years; Mudbaths & Bloodbaths: The Inside Story of the Bears-Packers Rivalry; and The Twenty-Five Greatest Moments in Lambeau Field History.
A career that began at the Manitowoc Herald-Times, Christl spent close to 16 years at the Green Bay Press-Gazette and 20 at The Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He won numerous awards for his work, including being named sportswriter of the year in Wisconsin seven times. Twice, in 1999 and 2001, the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association honored him in Salisbury, N.C., for writing the best national sports story. Three times in the 1990s, he placed in the enterprise reporting category in the Associated Press Sports Editors national writing contest. He also won two Milwaukee Press Club awards for best state sports story and a Wisconsin Newspaper Association award for best state sports column.
Christl was inducted into the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame as a “friend of basketball” in 2006 and was inducted into the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in a special citation category in 2007. In 2009, the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh honored him with its Distinguished Alumni Award.